Women are integral to boards

ALTHOUGH there is growing advocacy for women to assume leadership roles in a world that seems to be heavily paternal, there is always inherent scepticism if there is empirical evidence to push for this. But clearly, women have to be taken seriously. There are several studies highlighting the significant role women play in the corporate world. It is often claimed that gender diversity is important for composition of a good, balanced board.

\n

A report compiled by Evan Mervyn Davies (Lord Davies of Abersoch) – a former banker and UK trade minister – in 2011 indicated that although there was a long record of women achieving the highest qualifications and leadership positions in many walks of life, the poor representation of women on boards raises questions about whether board recruitment is in practice based on skills, experience and performance.

\n

Supporting the observations made by Davies is a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (2008) suggesting that at the current rate of change, it will take more than 70 years to achieve gender-balanced boardrooms in the UK’s 100 largest companies. Such statistics, especially in markets that are supposedly mature, represent an awful reality to companies in developing economies such as Zimbabwe’s.
\nDavies argues that having women on boards will improve the performance of companies.

\n

There are additional studies that also suggest that female non-executive directors contribute more effectively than male non-executives, preparing more conscientiously for board meetings and being prepared to ask awkward questions and to challenge strategy.

\n

Suffice to say, a gender-balanced board is more likely to pay attention to managing and controlling risk. Although men may find some of the questions women ask annoying, these questions are healthy for the good of the business.

\n

Having critics is always healthy as they provide necessary checks and balances. Naturally, because of this stark reality, some countries have been increasing efforts to increase the participation of women in administration of companies.

\n

Catalyst, an international non-profit that promotes development of women in business, says more women on boards results in measurably increased corporate performance.

\n

Catalyst Canada executive director Alex Johnston recently indicated that boardroom diversity increased shareholder value.
\n“It’s making sure that you’ve got people with different experiences and perspectives around the table wrestling with often very complex issues . . . You want to make sure those people do not all think, act, look, talk, analyse alike,” she said.

\n

It is also generally believed that gender-balanced boards are likely to measure and monitor strategy, adhere to ethical guidelines and ensure better communication with focus on non-financial performance measures such as employee and customer satisfaction, diversity and corporate social responsibility.

\n

They can also better focus on succession planning and new director training and induction.
\nIn the UK, the recommendations that were made by the Davies report were instructive.
\nThe report urged big listed companies in the UK to have a minimum of 25 percent of women in the board by 2015.

\n

But there are people who are opposed to the quota system saying it is a policy that results in tokenism, where those appointed simply benefit mainly because of their gender and not their skills. Recruitment of board members has to be on merit.

\n

If a candidate is simply accommodated because she belongs to an under-represented group, her contribution might not be taken seriously. It is, therefore, important to appoint competent women.

\n

Since Independence, the deliberate liberalisation of all sectors of the economy has opened up opportunities for women. Local women have footprints in virtually all socio-economic activities.
\nStill, more needs to be done.

\n

Of all companies that are listed on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange, only one – NicozDiamond – is represented by a woman. Most often the challenge that women face in companies is that directors easily stereotype them as either an “activist” or a “typical woman”.

\n

The risk is even greater if at the first board meeting the woman attends, they ask basic questions or take a different perspective from the rest of the board.

\n

It is in such circumstances that they are dismissed as clueless.
\nThe world is changing and we must change with it. Women are relevant in the economic market.

\n

Taurai Changwa is an articled accountant, ACCA finalist, and MD of SAFIC Consultancy. He writes in his personal capacity and can be contacted at tauraichangwa1@gmail.com, Facebook page SAFIC Consultancy and on WhatsApp number 0772374784.